NYC Public Advocate Pushes For Common-sense, Equitable Implementation Of Congestion Pricing

August 17th, 2023

Press Release

With the federal hurdles cleared and the implementation of congestion pricing approaching, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams urged that the program be executed with common sense, equitable considerations, adjustments, and exemptions in order to be most effective and avoid unintended consequences. The Public Advocate has been a longtime and outspoken supporter of congestion pricing, particularly highlighting its benefits to the climate and revenue raising implications. At a hearing today of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, he highlighted the need for thoughtful design of the program.

“I hope the Traffic Mobility Review Board, the MTA, and the DOT keep all the aforementioned concerns in mind and collectively devise and implement a congestion pricing program that is equitable across the board, mitigates financial burden on New York City’s working class and communities of more color, and improves environmental outcomes,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “Every New Yorker deserves a chance to live, work, and play in the city we call home, and that includes improving transportation access and outcomes for all.”

Under New York City’s congestion pricing plan, the first such model in the nation, fees will be charged to enter Manhattan south of 60th street, one of the world’s busiest commercial districts. The MTA is tasked with determining this fee, and expects to see $1 billion in revenue annually. The program will also reduce traffic and negative climate impact. In his statement to the committee, the Public Advocate highlighted several considerations to prevent negative impacts of the program on low-income and working class New Yorkers

“Congestion pricing… aims to reduce traffic and pollution, and provide much-needed transit improvements,” explained the Public Advocate. “I am in support of these goals, and want to emphasize that the pursuit of these outcomes should not be at the expense of others. I urge the Traffic Mobility Review Board to be conscientious of ongoing concerns raised by workers who rely on their vehicles, low-income drivers, residents and businesses within the corridor, and neighbors of the surrounding areas.”

Among the considerations raised by the Public Advocate were financial burdens for rideshare drivers and passengers, foot traffic impacts for small businesses in the tolling zone, and the potential for increased congestion and traffic pollution along alternative routes, predominantly in communities of more color.

The Public Advocate’s full comments at the hearing are below.

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE ON CONGESTION PRICING  AUGUST 17, 2023 

Good morning, 

My name is Jumaane D. Williams and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Brooks-Powers and members of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for holding this hearing.

In June of 2023, the final federal hurdle in the implementation of congestion pricing in New York City was cleared, marking the first time in the United States that a congestion pricing program is set to become reality. For years, NYC has been ranked as one of the most congested and traffic-clogged American cities. Per the program, drivers would be charged a fee to enter Manhattan south of 60th street, one of the world’s busiest commercial districts. The fee has yet to be set and will be determined by the MTA, which is overseeing the tolling program, which is also anticipated to generate $1 billion annually for MTA capital projects. Congestion pricing, which is slated to begin next year, aims to reduce traffic and pollution, and provide much-needed transit improvements. I am in support of these goals, have proudly been so since relatively few of us were during my first term in office, and want to emphasize that the pursuit of these outcomes should not be at the expense of others. I urge the Traffic Mobility Review Board to be conscientious of ongoing concerns raised by workers who rely on their vehicles, low-income drivers, residents and businesses within the Central Business District Tolling Zone, and neighbors of the surrounding communities.

I do know there may be some discussion about exemptions– they should be few and far between, and slightly more discounts. Without those, there will be a disproportionate financial burden on taxi, for-hire vehicles, Uber, and Lyft drivers. I do think there should be a discount for Uber and Lyft drivers; I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I think the burgeoning industry of Uber and Lyft did add some of the congestion we’re speaking of. Without some of these discounts, we may see fare increases and a decrease in demand for taxis and for-hire rides. For rideshare drivers, the Review Board should find a way to ensure that rideshare companies are responsible for the fees, not the individual drivers, and the fee should not be the full proposed $23 nor should drivers be tolled for multiple trips. Furthermore, low-income drivers, who may live in transit deserts and rely on their vehicles as a result, of course this is relatively few, should also benefit from discounts and a limited number of tolls. It is my understanding that the MTA has already conducted studies and assessments on these proposals, and it is my hope that they follow through to mitigate negative impacts to low-income and working class New Yorkers.

Additionally, another concern relates to unintended consequences for residents and businesses within the tolling zone, as well as the surrounding communities. Small businesses in the tolling zone have shared worries that congestion pricing may lead to lower foot traffic, and freights and deliveries may potentially be impacted. I am a proponent of utilizing public transit where applicable, but as we know transit access is not equitable across the city, thus cars may be one of the only means of transportation for some. There are also environmental concerns in regards to diverted traffic from congestion pricing; in particular, I think of low-income communities of more color that may see greater traffic pollution in response to drivers finding alternative routes throughout the city. They may end up parking in these neighborhoods and take up additional parking spaces which may lead to greater traffic build-up. Places like Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, which have the highest death and disease rates of asthma in the country, do not need to bear the brunt of more pollution. While congestion pricing is ultimately moving forward, and should, expeditiously, with the goal of improving environmental outcomes, we must ensure that it does not end up becoming merely a redirection of existing traffic pollution – perhaps there’s a way we can prevent people from parking day to day outside of those communities. 

I hope the Traffic Mobility Review Board, the MTA, and the DOT keep all the aforementioned concerns in mind and collectively devise and implement a congestion pricing program that is equitable across the board, mitigates financial burden on NYC’s working class and communities of more color, and improves environmental outcomes. Every New Yorker deserves a chance to live, work, and play in the city we call home, and that includes improving transportation access and outcomes for all. I also just want to say that I'm a driver, cyclist, and pedestrian. My family comes from a family of drivers – we do know that cars are the most protected, most dangerous, and carry the least people on the road, and we have the most infrastructure for them. That is something we definitely have to change. Most working-class, low-income New Yorkers do not drive daily, they take mass transit. If you’re driving into the city daily, you’re doing so mostly because of the convenience, and we have to change things. I know that this is difficult for some folks. With the money gained, we can make better mass transit, for most people who travel. The preference would be people not driving during those hours in midtown, but if they do, I think congestion pricing makes the most sense and is what we need to do. 

Thank you.

Our Office

David N. Dinkins Municipal Building
1 Centre Street 15th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Email: gethelp@advocate.nyc.gov

Hotline: (212) 669-7250

Fax: (888) 409-0287*

Text: (833) 933-1692

*Our fax number has changed temporarily while we upgrade our infrastructure
© 2024 Copyright: Office of the New York City Public Advocate
Privacy Policy